The Disastrous Effect of Office Bullies on Employee Engagement

4 min read
Aug 17, 2016

Toxic employeeYour company’s success balances directly on your commitment to employee engagement. Some of the most essential performance indicators — retention, productivity, and earnings — are all influenced by how engaged your employees are. Unfortunately, engagement as a whole can be adversely affected by the type of people you employ — and it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the whole bunch.


Whats a Toxic Employee?

Simply put, a toxic employee is a worker who poisons the atmosphere with negativity, lowers the morale of their coworkers, and shoots productivity in the foot.

While there are a number of different types of toxic employees, the ones who cause the most lasting damage are the bullies. Unfortunately, they’re not always easy to spot.

“Workplace bullies are often hard to identify,” explains Dr. Aaron Schat, a professor at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business. “They can be socially manipulative, targeting ‘weaker’ employees and ‘kissing up to those they need to be in the good graces of at work.’ Thus, an upper-level manager may say, ‘That person seems great to me.’”

If you have three or more employees who complain about the same person, there's a good chance you have a bully on your hands. It’s important to investigate these complaints, as the impact bullying can have on your employees is extremely troubling.

Workplace bullying


The Effect of Office Bullying on Employees and Engagement

Engaged employees are enthusiastic, believe in the company vision, and trust their leaders; they’re willing to go the extra mile to make sure your organization succeeds. They’ll build and maintain strong teams, work hard, and communicate effectively. However, if there are bullies in the group, you can kiss engagement goodbye.

Cornerstone OnDemand found that bullies don’t tend to have much of an effect on the day-to-day performance of their coworkers. Their influence manifests in long-term negative effects, such as stress, burnout, and peace of mind.

In a Knowledge @ Wharton article, Michelle K. Duffy, a professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, explains that bullies have the ability to destroy the social fabric of the organization by creating friction, drama, tension, and hostility among other employees.

The anxiety associated with workplace bullying affects not only the emotional health and well-being of the targets but also that of bystanders as well. Employees who feel undermined and disrespected at work are more likely to be stressed, miss work for health reasons, and lose creative energy.

What’s more, some employees are more likely to engage in toxic behavior if they’re exposed to other toxic employees — meaning one bully can quickly multiply into two or three.

Handling office bullies isn’t always easy for employees. Some suffer silently, others report it to management, and still others seek psychiatric help. A recent survey from Family Lives reported:

  • 78% of respondents felt they were unable to stand up to workplace bullying because of the financial climate and shortage of jobs
  • 74% said that workplace bullying affected their family life and close relationships
  • 44% sought medical advice or counselling because of the bullying
  • 44% felt they needed to take official action to get the bullying to stop
  • 20% were signed off of work to de-stress from the bullying

Ultimately, your star employees may end up abandoning you all together. Good employees are 54% more likely to quit when they work with a toxic employee — even if there is as few as 1 on a team of 20.



The Effect of Office Bullying on the Company

Since bullies make their coworkers significantly more likely to leave, replacement costs rise significantly. Cornerstone’s research found that hiring a single toxic employee onto a team of 20 cost approximately $12,800. Under the same circumstances, hiring a nontoxic employee cost an average of $4,000. And these estimates are conservative — they don’t account for the secondhand effects such as lost work hours due to people avoiding the bully, talking about them, being worried about dealing with them, and so on.

If management fails to reprimand the bully and attempt to curb their bad behavior, they may find themselves losing their employees hard-earned trust. According to the Family Lives survey mentioned above, a whopping 91% of employees feel that their organization fails to deal with office bullying adequately.

workplace fails


How to Spot a Workplace Bully

In order to get rid of office bullies, you have to be able to identify them first. Look for individuals with the following traits:

  • Notably overconfident about their technical proficiencies
  • More focused on the quantity of the work they produce than the quality
  • Has recurrent outbursts
  • Frequently ridicules people, companies, and products
  • Has a poor attitude
  • Makes excuses when other are offended by their behavior
  • Constantly criticizes other employees’ work

Most importantly, listen to your employees. If you have built a significant amount of trust, they are likely to come forward and tell you they are being bullied — and who the culprit is.

It’s absolutely crucial that you do your best to identify and eradicate destructive employee behavior as soon as possible. If you don’t, you’re likely to see morale drop, organizational culture crash, and your best employees walk out the door. No bully is worth the success of your company.




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